Sunday, October 17, 2004

Hot Water Heater

March 2004

The hot water heaters that were installed when the house was built were getting old. We were beginning to experience not enough hot water for showers after Lauren took her shower and then Linda and then me. So the idea was to stay ahead of an actual problem and change out the hot water heaters to avoid a problem later. There are two hot water heaters -- one in the garage for the kitchen, washer/dryer and garage and one in the hallway for the bathrooms.

There are a couple of steps to this:

1. Find a new hot water heater.
2. Switch out the old one with the new one.
3. Haul off the old ones.

There aren't that many different hot water heaters. I found six or so to consider. I'm looking for two 50-gallon gas hot water heaters. I can check locally at stores and on-line.

I checked locally at Lowes, Home Depot, Sears. Online at State, Rheem, and Maytag. Looking at warranty (8 to 12 year), BTUs (40K), Energy Factor (.58 to .64), recovery (40.4 to 44.9 gals/hour). The best of the bunch seemed to me to be the GE unit from Home Depot. It was slightly more expensive than the Whirlpool unit at Lowe's, but had a higher Energy Factor (.62).

The next problem was step 2 -- how to actually do the switch. Looking at the way the old units were installed, it became clear to me that I couldn't do this myself. I can so some plumbing, but I don't sweat pipes; I just don't have any experience or training in doing so. So I would need to get a plumber. That changed the whole problem of getting the hot water heaters.

Most plumbers wanted to do the whole thing -- provide the hot water heaters and do the work. Buying the hot water heaters from Home Depot would be about 400 each, or 800 total. Plumbers wanted much more for the hot water heaters and then the installation too. Sears wanted $1700 for the two. Custom Plumbing quoted $1275 (each) for the hot water heaters. And almost all of them were for the State brand of gas water heater, but not the better version (Premier) but for the Standard.

Eventually, I went with Fox Service Company. They would do just the installation.

So, on 18 March 2004, I rented a truck from Home Depot ($20.90) and bought two 50-gallon GE Hot Water Heaters ($904.13) and brought them home. On the 19th, Fox came out and installed them ($765.00). There was one "minor" problem -- we apparently had two 40-gallon heaters before, so it was a bit of a tight fit, but they got it done just fine.


Or it seemed that it was fine. There was one minor problem that didn't show up for another 7 months. In October, I opened the heating closet and found that the hot water heater was sitting in a pool of water. There is a pan under the hot water heater, so that if it leaks, the leak is contained. The pan then needs to drain, and Fox had connected the drain for the water heater to the drain for the air conditioner, so it didn't overflow.

Of course the unit was still under warranty, so I spent the next couple of days on the phone trying to get this hot water tank replaced. This was not easy. I notice the problem at 12:30 AM Friday 8 October and called at 7:30 AM to report it. I was told that "Someone will respond within one business day", but by 5:30 no one had responded. For days, I got the run-around. Since it was the weekend, everything was time and a half. By Monday, I was told "We are really backed up on our warranty work; maybe Thursday. Maybe."

With lots of calls, I was able to get Sully to come out on Tuesday 12 October. I had previously gone to Home Depot, rented a truck and got a replacement (40-gallon) hot water heater. In two hours, the work was done. ($170.00). Then I had to rent another truck and take the leaking hot water heater back to Home Depot to get credit for the replacement unit I bought.

In retrospect, it would have been much easier if either (a) I learned how to install the hot water heater myself, so that I could do the whole job, or (b) I had the plumber do the whole job. Even with a warranty for the unit, we were without hot water for 3 or 4 days, and it took a lot of coordination to get it done.

And it probably wasn't necessary. While there was water all around the hot water tank, in the pan, and the rust suggested the hot water heater had been sitting in water for a long time, there was the suggestion that the water came not from the hot water heater, but from the A/C system. Remember how Fox had tied the hot water heater pan drain into the A/C drain? The suggestion was made that the water from the A/C system was going down its drain and then into the hot water heater pan. To prevent that, the last plumber cut the connection and sealed it, so the hot water heater has no drain. I got some battery operated alarms that are supposed to warn of water in the pan.

Update (28 Dec 2018):  While we were resting after dinner, there came a shrill noise to the kitchen.  We tracked it down to the hall way, and then to the hot water heater.  It was the battery operated alarm that I had put in the pan.  And there was water in the pan!

There is a pressure/temperature relief valve at the top of the hot water heater (on the side), and it was leaking around that.  I've known that these things will/can fail, and this one apparently was on the verge of doing so.  I called a plumber, Wilson Plumbers, and they sent two guys out to fix it.  They had two replacement valves, but one was too short and the other too long (it prevented the door from closing), so they had to go get the right size, but they did, and installed it.  The whole thing took about 2 hours.  (They said our water pressure, which they measured at 100 pounds, is too high, but also that the springs in these valves just give out eventually.)

A couple of days after the plumbers had been out, I opened the door to the hot water heater, and there was water -- inches! -- in the pan.  The drain/flush valve, at the bottom of the tank was dripping, quickly!  So I turned off the water to
the hot water heater, drained the tank, and removed the top of the drain valve.  Looks like it needs a new washer.  I found 00 Flat washers at Home Depot (1/2" outside diameter) as being almost the right size -- a tad too big, but they can be squished to fit.  Then a new screw -- #6-32 brass, about 1/2 long at most.  Put that all back together, and fill it up again.  Seems to be working with no drips.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Remodelling the Back Bathroom

Lauren wants to move into the back bedroom, and Linda took an interest in remodelling the bathroom and bedroom before she does. Linda worked with some people at Materials Marketing which sells lots of different types of stone tile and pieces. They laid out a design for using their stone work to tile the sink counter top, the floor, and the bathtub/shower areas of the bath. 

The material for all this was $1983.08. We then contracted with Fox Tile to take out the old tile and install all the new stone tile. This was $2000. 

The installation was not as good as I would have preferred. The tile was supposed to go all the way to the ceiling, but they stopped about 8 inches from the top. 

And once the tile was in place, we replaced all the fixtures in the room. 

The toilet was replaced by an American Standard Champion. This is a higher toilet than normal (they call it "Right Height"), an elongated bowl, in a "Linen" color. $477.38 from Home Depot. 

The tub/shower fixtures were American Standard 8630 in Nickel Satin finish $415.50 from Home Depot. I needed help from Fox Services to install the tub/shower fixtures. $85.00 

The sink fixtures were "Iris", again in a Nickel Satin finish $402.00 from Home Depot. 

 The light fixture was from Texas Light, $162.55. 

The towel rods were from Restoration Hardware, their Chatham line, again in Satin Nickel. $132.07. 

The builder had installed a ceiling heater, but no vent fan, so I took out the ceiling heater and put in a Broan Model 683C Deluxe Fan. This required installing a vent in the exterior gable wall and running a vent duct thru the attic. 

And finally, we painted the walls and ceiling. The ceiling is a Premium Plus Interior Eggshell paint, a pastel base with "Restful" (400F-4) tint. The walls are a green Behr paint. 

And once the bathroom was done, we repainted the back bedroom. We removed the original "popcorn" ceiling, and textured it to match the walls. $550.00. Then I sanded the wood floors and put a coat of polyurethane on them.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

A New Roof

It was time to get a new roof. We had one leak which we patched, but now we had another leak, this time in the garage. We could have patched that one too, but at some point we would just need to put on a new roof. 

We got four estimates. Each estimate involved talking to a roofing company. They would come out and look over the roof, and give options on what kind of new roofing material to put on. The original roof, from when the house was built, has a 50 year warranty. Now, 18 years later, it needed to be replaced. And, of course neither the original installer (the builder) nor the company that produced the shingles were still around. But if we could get another 20 years out of this roof, we probably would not be here to need to re-roof again. 

Each estimate covered the same basic job. Take off the old roof and putting down new felt underneath it, new flashing, and the new roof. 30-year warranty shingles. We also asked about a metal roof. A metal roof should be long lasting. 

Company A bid 7278 for the shingle roof, but didn't do metal roofs. 

Company B bid 7696 for the shingle, and 21,687 for a metal roof. 

Company C bid 8912 for the shingle, and 18,900 for a metal roof. 

Company D bid 7292 for the shingle, and 24,292 for a metal roof. 

We liked the idea of a metal roof, but for the price difference, it just didn't make sense. We could re-roof with regular asphalt shingles 3 times for the price of one metal roof. Even supposing that it would last 3 times (or more) longer, we don't expect to be in the house that long. 

So we went with Company D -- Aztec Roofing and Siding. Once that was decided, there were various details to contend with. We went with a 30-year GAF Timberline Cedar Blend shingle.


(We ended up getting a new roof in 2013, so only 9 years later. By then it cost $16,265)

They knew that we had a ridge vent along the top of the house, and would have to consider that.  At the same time, however, they took out the wind turbine vents and covered those holes. I had been reading that the wind turbines are both not helpful and can be problematic. They may be better than nothing, but a ridge vent combined with soffit openings will provide a smooth flow of air from the soffit openings to the ridge vent. The wind turbines cause turbulence in that flow, and reduce the cooling effect. 

At the same time, there were a couple of panels of plywood roof decking under the shingles that needed to be replaced -- these were in the location of the leak. I asked them to use a replacement plywood with a radiant barrier attached to the underside. Radiant barriers are supposed to help keep the heat down in the attic and thus prevent the heat from building up and being transmitted into the house. So we have a patchwork of roof decking -- most is normal plywood, but we have 4 sheets of radiant barrier. 

The result was a total cost of $7390.42. 

 The company did a good job. They tore off the old roof and dropped it into the back of a truck parked on the driveway. Then they replaced the roof decking that needed it, put down the new felt, and then the new shingles. It took all day -- they were cleaning up by flashlight after sundown, but they got it all done in one day. Since they were working so late, they missed some of the clean up items -- I found a number of shingles and nails the next day in the light. But it was adequate. 

In fact, it suggested an additional income possibility for them. They probably did the standard "magnet" sweep of the yard. They have a strong magnet on a pole and push it or wave it around to pick up nails. Only works on iron and steel nails, of course, and only if you cover the entire area close enough to the ground for the magnet to work. If you really wanted to do a good job, you probably would want to use one of those metal detectors that some people use at the beach to find coins and watches and such. If you could rent one for a day, and use it you might get a much better clean-up job. For more time, of course, and so it would be an extra-charge item -- the cost of renting the detector and the time of the person that operated it.